Greetings to my fellow coach-class passengers aboard the StarShipSleigh…I mean… sofa. My name is Adam, welcoming you to the Christmas edition of Cheapskates and bringing you reviews of free science fiction ebooks and audiobooks.
Yes, we’re changing up the theme music this week to make room for my favorite Christmas song… about despotic alien robots enslaving all humanity…
Well, Cheapskates there’s just <<Insert number of days here>> shopping days left until Christmas. And maybe, like me, the funds aren’t going quite as far as you’d like for all the gifts you’d like to give. So… I’m going to start off departing from my usual hints and review a few sites where you can earn a little extra Christmas scratch for the bibliophile in your life.
First is a site called Mechanical Turk at www.mturk.com. I could look up what a Mechanical Turk actually is, but I prefer my initial image of a Steampunk robot wearing a Fez. Don’t correct me. I don’t want to know.
Essentially this Amazon-connected company pays you for doing annoying, small or repetitive online tasks that aren’t worth the time for most people. And for the most part, yeah, a few pennies for the amount of tasks you have to do just isn’t worth it.
But, if you want some advice, working on the site just barely becomes worth it if you try the research surveys frequently posted to the site. After you do them for a while, you’ll recognize the legitimate ones. In the first place, the ones from a true college or university are never more than $10, and you’re usually flying high if you find one for $5. Mostly, though, the surveys worth doing range between a quarter and a dollar. Don’t ignore the cheaper ones. You can usually hammer those out a lot faster than the time commitment expected from researchers paying a whole dollar.
Also, never click blind – any task that tries to link using a site masker like bit.ly or the like is bad news bears.
A few of these are consumer or political surveys, but mostly you’ll be doing psychological surveys if you try this out. I’m sure I’ve distorted more than my fair share of graduate psychology students’ view of the mental landscape of the world by taking these surveys over the years.
You can also do OK with voice transcription, but these are more hit-and-miss. They often expect much for little reward, and more often than not the recordings are nearly indecipherable. To get a sense of how much you can make on MTurk – well, I’ve made just shy of $500 in the three years I’ve done tasks, and that’s with doing a few here and there over lunch hours – just slightly over 1,800 jobs, some big and some small.
You can either get the funds as a straight deposit to your bank account once you reach at least $10, or you can pull off an Amazon gift card with just a dollar. It’s a really easy way to buy some cheap Kindle books for the modern reader.
If you’re looking for something a little more passive, you can give SwagBucks a try. Again, if you’re not careful, you can end up signing on to expensive offers that aren’t worth the rewards. But if you’re patient, you can accrue points… I’m sorry… “SwagBucks” through some fairly benign methods – like doing searches, printing off and using coupons, viewing a few ads without obligation or playing some videos, which are easy to mute and ignore, or answering a poll that takes just a couple seconds. You can snag $5 Amazon gift cards for just 450 Bucks, $5 Barnes & Noble cards for 500 Bucks, and a surprising variety of eBooks and even eReaders – if you can be patient enough to let the Bucks accrue up to the five-digit range. There’s also the option to donate your bucks to charity, which I think is an admirable usage. It’s even a good gift to give to the person who has everything by helping out people who have nothing.
There’s also a wide variety of other stuff if you don’t care for books or… helping others, but we both know… that’s not the case, right?
My final suggestion is to try out Bing Rewards. This one is probably the safest of these options, as the main way to earn Rewards points is just to search using Bing. You can also get a few points by clicking on their sponsored links, but it processes pretty quick and you can usually just click and close. You can get Amazon gift cards, free Redbox DVD or video game rentals or – again – make a charitable contribution. By the way, I think it’s hilarious that Bing finds it necessary to shell out free stuff to get people to use their search engine. But if they’re giving it away, I’m willing to take it. Most of my searches are straightforward, and it’s not like Google’s going away anytime soon.
My apologies for the Amazon-esque leanings of these suggestions. It’s not necessarily my preference, but for whatever reason, Amazon seems pretty willing to associate itself with this kind of quote “easy money.” I should probably also give the disclaimer – I’m in no way being compensated for these suggestions by anyone. These are on the up-and-up and all based on my personal experience. Also this disclaimer: if you mess up and get your identity stolen, don’t come crying to me.
Hope these ideas help out with the holiday bills, just … be careful, OK?
All right, on to the good stuff. I thought with Christmas just around the corner, I’d review a free science fiction ebook with a Christmas theme. It was a little tricky to think of or to find a good one, though. And then I realized the perfect sci fi book was staring me right in the face.
I’m referring, of course, to that science fiction classic – “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
“Holy genre misclassification, Batman” – I imagine I can hear you all saying. But just… bear with me.
I’m going to trust I don’t need to give a plot summary, as infused as this is into Western culture in general and our holiday season in specific. But, just in case, here’s A Christmas Carol, in 16 words: Scrooge is a bad rich miser. Four ghosts change him. Now he’s a good rich man.
What I want to focus on, instead, is making my argument for “A Christmas Carol” as a forerunner of modern science fiction and paranormal fiction.
First, there’s the obvious paranormal activity with the visitation from the ghost of Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This might be easy to dismiss today, but I think it’s primarily as a result of the more cutsie-poo versions of the classic tale. These are particularly egregious when it comes to Marley’s ghost, the ghost of Christmas past, and the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. For example, the Mickey Mouse version put Goofy in the role of Marley and Jimminy Cricket as Ghost of Christmas Past. The Muppet version had two Marleys to accommodate Statler & Waldof doing their pun-laden knee-slappers. And a Sesame Street Christmas Carol had the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come played by a cute little robot called i-SAM, which was channeling the voice of Elmo.
Oddly, the 2009 computer animated Disney version – with Jim Carrey voicing scrooge AND the three ghosts -seems to come closer to the mark than most other films of recent days.
All of these trivial versions of A Christmas Carol, I think, has really distracted from some really creepy and brilliant description by Dickens in the original tale that’s nearly on a par with H.P. Lovecraft. Take this description of the Ghost of Christmas past, for example:
It was a strange figure— like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm. Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.
Then there’s this bit with Marley:
At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!
And finally this moment just after Scrooge meets Marley’s ghost, which is almost universally dropped from movie adaptations:
It beckoned Scrooge to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Marley’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Scrooge stopped. Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night. Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Apart from this, there’s just a lot of examples where Dickens makes some really unsettling use of metaphor: like when he talks about the air laughing, or describes Scrooge’s now-grumpy house as having gallivanted around in its younger days.
But let’s proceed with my points: apart from the paranormal and the elements of horror, we also have early examples of time travel by Scrooge traveling with the ghosts to past and future. I’d also argue that there are examples of lost or compressed time – see: “The Spirits have done it all in one night.” – and, I would contend, even a moment of alternate timelines when Scrooge asks, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
There’s even a passing moment of possible telepathy, when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears to read Scrooge’s thoughts.
But even if you don’t buy it as science fiction… that’s OK, I wouldn’t truly classify it that way, either… you can’t deny that the work has been embraced by those working in science fiction in fantasy.
Take, for example, these books found with just a quick search on Amazon: A Zombie Christmas Carol; I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas; A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead; A Vampire Christmas Carol; A Vampire’s Christmas Carol; Scrooge, the Vampire; A Christmas Carol & Steampunk Cyborgs; and Carol for Another Christmas… which apparently brings Scrooge into the digital age, this time as the moralizer.
All of these cost, so they’re not Cheapskate-worthy, but for the record… I wouldn’t pay for these anyway…
Prefer comic books? Well, there’s an issue of the “Batman: Noel” series that takes A Christmas Carol as its theme.
Not a DC fan? Fine: Check out the brand-spankin’ new “Zombies Christmas Carol” in the Marvel Zombies series released Oct. 31 of 2012, which apparently has Tiny Tim… eating… Bob… Cratchit.
Not sure I can explain the apparently obsessive need to put zombies into Dickens, but, apparently someone’s buying.
If you’re wanting some quality, I’d recommend Tim Pratt’s excellent “The Ghost of Christmas Possible” – which you can hear for free over in the Podcastle archives.
Also, there was apparently an episode of Doctor Who in 2010 that used the Christmas Carol framework, which I have not been able to lay my hands on. The clips and reviews bode well, so it’s probably worth your time if you can find it.
And if you happen to be in Chicago around the holidays, you have got to check out “A Klingon Christmas Carol” by Commedia Beauregard – my apologies in advance for the pronunciation – at the Raven theatre. I know this sounds absurd, but those who have seen it say it apparently makes the transition well into Klingon, and it’s been popular enough to actually become something of a modern tradition for several years now.
In this version, rather than lacking compassion, Scrooge lacks honor and courage. This version is performed completely in Klingon with English “supertitles” and includes narrative analysis from the Vulcan Institute of Cultural Anthropology.
If you get a chance, I say go give it a chance.
Whether you buy that Dicken’s classic is proto-sci fi or not, you really need to give it a read. It’s short, and pleasantly clever and funny. I hadn’t realized that. You can hear it right from the beginning with the “dead as a doornail” section:
“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.”
Other examples are Scrooge worrying that his contracts would be worthless as a U.S. Security – that never goes away, does it? – and accusing Marley of being “more of gravy than the grave,” meaning that he’s the result of bad indigestion.
If I have any criticism of the book, and it’s hard to find anything here to nitpick, it’s that Scrooge seems a little too willing to go along with the ghosts and change his ways. He’s set up as too entrenched for such a turnaround. The reaction in the aforementioned story by Tim Pratt seems more accurate – in that version, he hired a paranormal investigator.
I’ll link to free versions of A Christmas Carol online, including versions that reproduce the first-edition illustrations – very cool. That’s on my website: cheapskatesreveiw.wordpress.com. I’ll also include links to free audiobook versions of the story – among them a dramatized version on LibriVox of surprising quality. Of course, I’ll give you links to as many of those crazy derivative works as I can fit in.
Well, that’s all today for Cheapskates. Theme music – this month – is from “Chiron Beta Prime” by the great Jonathan Coulton under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial license. You can find Jonathan’s work at www.jonathancoulton.com.
This is Adam, reminding you that free doesn’t have to mean cheap